Easwaran Kanason

Co - founder of PetroEdge
Last Updated: July 29, 2016
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Business Trends
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Reports out of India are suggesting that the government is planning to arrange a mammoth marriage – uniting all or most 13 state-owned oil firms into one gigantic corporation, which would rival the world’s largest energy companies. It is an interesting proposition and one that the financial markets have cheered, driving a rally on the Mumbai Stock Exchange. But is it feasible, and will deliver on its promise? 

The idea behind the mega merger is to create efficiency, slashing through the red tape and bureaucracy that hampers much of Indian business. The merger will not only bring refiners and retailers Indian Oil, BPCL, HPCL, MRPL and upstream producer ONGC under one roof, but also potentially include research and policy units like the Oil Industry Development Board, Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell and Petroleum Conservation Research Association. It will, in effect, create an all-powerful Ministry of Petroleum that consolidates E&P, refining, distribution and marketing together with national energy policy and international energy diplomacy. It echoes many of the ideas that socialist nations espouse, but even countries like China and Russia have evolved towards devolution. The Ministry of Oil in the USSR was an all-controlling behemoth that imploded as Soviet Russia broke up, and even in centrally-planned China, the oil sector was divided between CNOOC (upstream), CNPC/Petrochina (downstream, north China) and Sinopec (downstream, south China). 

On paper, the clout it gives India’s Oil companies is massive. Various Indian oil companies are already jointly lobbying for deals and acquisitions overseas, and bringing them under one roof increases their leverage. The inefficient overlap in many distribution and marketing activities could be consolidated, and the internal bickering that prevents large-scale infrastructure from developing rapidly could be eliminated. The government is obviously in favour of this, having initiated a similar idea back in 2005, which was shot down by a government advisory panel, which favoured smaller, nimbler firms. 

One of the arguments back in 2005 was that to create a state monopoly would stifle innovation and eliminate privatisation. That was then, but now the government can point to Reliance and Essar Oil, two private entities that have succeeded in the stifling atmosphere, even though their access to retail is limited. Innovation would be provided by the various state research entities, linked together with the commercial arms under the same central command. 

The idea is enticing, and certainly shareholders and investors are excited. But it will ultimately be judged on how well it is executed and if delivers on its promise. State monopolies are a useful tool to push through a coherent energy policy – something that India needs – but their very size and power always creates a distorted market. Monopolies have always broken up – look at Standard Oil and AT&T Bell System in the US – or breed more corruption, like recently in Brazil’s Petrobras. The merger is a short-term solution that will only create more long term complications. If consolidation must be done, India would do well to look at China’s model: ONGC is doing a great job in upstream, as is GAIL for gas. Downstream is where the best potential of consolidation can occur, and policy and research should always be kept separate from commercial concerns. A mega merger is an enticing idea, on paper, but in reality, it would be difficult to work. 

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November, 15 2018
Your Weekly Update: 12 - 16 November 2018

Market Watch

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 12 November 2018 – Brent: US$71/b; WTI: US$60/b

  • Crude prices continue their retreat from recent highs, as a bear market engulfed sentiment last week over fears of oversupply from frantic OPEC+ pumping offsetting the loss of Iranian crude volumes, which itself was mitigated by the US handing out waivers to eight key crude importers
  • After stating that OPEC was in a ‘pump as much as you can’ mode, the quick fall in prices has caused alarm across the cartel, with Saudi Arabia reversing gear to curb its exports by 500,000 b/d in December to shore up prices
  • With the OPEC meeting in Vienna imminent, it is possible that a new output cut agreement could be reached within OPEC+, to counter an oversupply situation stemming from declining demand, as well as surging US shale production – which will rise to a record 7.94 mmb/d across seven major shale basins in December, according to the EIA
  • However, beyond Saudi Arabia, there is not much appetite within the OPEC+ alliance to reduce output, with Iraq happy with its record production and Russia dismissing the oversupply situation as a ‘seasonal glitch’
  • Saudi Arabia’s plan to cut its oil production was criticised by US President Donald Trump, stung by losses in midterm elections that Trump chalks up to, in part, high fuel prices
  • News that Saudi Arabia was researching the topic of breaking up OPEC rattled the markets, but the Kingdom moved to quash rumours as Aramco raised the pricing for its medium and heavy crudes sold to Asia
  • Despite this, trends have turned bearish for crude prices over this week, propelled by large jumps in US crude output and worries over a global economic slowdown, particularly in China; Brent and WTI fell by over US$4/b on Tuesday alone, falling below the US$70/b and US$60/b levels again
  • After several weeks of caution, US drillers added 14 new rigs this week – up by 12 oil rigs and 2 gas rigs to 1,081 in total – with the most gains once again coming from the prolific Permian Basin
  • Crude price outlook: After the large drop on Tuesday, crude prices appear to have stabilised somewhat around the US$65-66/b level for Brent and the US$55-56/b level for WTI


Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • Another setback for TransCanada’s beleaguered Keystone XL pipeline, as a judge in Montana halted the project over two lawsuits filed asserting that its environmental impact assessment required further review
  • Phillips 66 and Bridger Pipeline are launching two new crude pipelines connecting Rockies and Bakken oil to the Texas Gulf Coast; the Liberty Pipeline will carry 350 kb/d from Bakken/Rockies to Corpus Christi, while the 400 kb/d Red Oak Pipeline connects Corpus Christi to Houston
  • Magellan Midstream Partners is looking to build a new pipeline connecting Cushing to Houston, with the 250 kb/d Voyager pipeline targeted at end-2020
  • The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq has increased capacity of its oil pipeline from Kirkuk to Ceyhan, Turkey, from 700,000 b/d to 1 mmb/d
  • After previously fleeing from Canadian oil sands, ExxonMobil is investing again, with its Imperial Oil unit earmarking some US$2 billion for the new Aspen project in northern Alberta
  • Senrica Energy continues its buying spree in the North Sea, acquiring Marubeni Oil & Gas’ 3.75% and 8.33% interest in the Bruce and Keith fields
  • ADNOC is implementing a comprehensive hydrocarbons strategy that will increase its crude output capacity to 4 mmb/d by 2020 and 5 mmb/d by 2030
  • Croatia has launched the country’s second onshore licensing round, offering seven blocks in the prolific Pannonian basin
  • Eni and Lukoil have signed a farm-out deal, transferring participating interests in three shallow-water offshore Mexican licenses, including Area 10, 12 and 14
  • Buoyed by recent gas successes, Israel has announced its second offshore licensing round, offering up 19 blocks in its southern waters
  • Senegal is overhauling its own code, with plans to raise royalties and have the state take a bigger stake in projects after a string of major discoveries
  • CNOOC is kickstarting a development drive aimed at eking out additional volumes from several marginal fields in Bohai Bay and the South China Sea

Downstream

  • Nigeria’s ambitious overhaul of its state-owned refineries has been pushed back to end-2019 over slow progress in NNPC’s attempt to seek joint financing
  • NNPC is looking to sign crude-for-product swap deals with Shell and ExxonMobil, after signing one with BP, to acquire crude for its refineries
  • France is pushing ahead with its attempt to introduce a new fuel tax, despite a series of major blockades and protests planned to oppose the measure

Natural Gas/LNG

  • Total and Sempra Energy have signed a new MoU on LNG cooperation, covering the Cameron LNG in Louisiana, USA and Energía Costa Azul in Baja California, Mexico, with Total potentially taking up to 9 mtpa of LNG for its global portfolio from both projects
  • Cuadrilla has had first shale gas flow at its exploration well in the UK’s Preston New Road site, sparking optimism for the commercialisation of Bowland Shale
  • Croatia has picked Golar Power to deliver an FSRU for a planned floating LNG terminal in the northern Adriatic Sea
  • Tellurian confirms that construction on its Driftwood LNG terminal Louisiana will begin in 2H2019, which operations planned to begin in 2023
  • Japan’s Toshiba Corp is exiting the US LNG business, selling off its assets to China’s ENN Ecological Holdings for over US$800 million
November, 15 2018